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News reporting with a point of view: where to draw the line?

News reporting with a point of view: where to draw the line?

Traditionally journalism has two types of writers, those who report the news, and those who craft opinion pieces and columns. According to NewsTrust, the three main drivers of a news reporter are factuality, fairness, and valid sourcing. That which drives the opinion writer is being informative, insightful, and writing well. There is overlap between the two, most obviously in being informative and writing well, but NewsTrust still draws a clear distinction in priorities of purpose--something currently up for debate with today's report in the American Journalism Review that new editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, Larry Platt, is generally wanting more news writing with a point of view.

Having been fired from Philadelphia magazine because of what seems to have been a very inappropriate joke--the Daily News reported last summer that he gave a framed photograph of a cyst that had been removed from his testicle to a female staffer (?!)--Platt has been given the objective to repackage the paper as a "loud, irreverent and fun tabloid," in the words of CEO and Publisher Greg Osberg, a former Newsweek publisher as reported by the American Journalism Review. Osberg points to trends in today's news environment: "You're certainly seeing more opinion coming out in a lot of journalistic outlets," he says. But, he adds, "at the end of the piece you can't compromise on the accuracy of the facts."
This should provide interesting tension between the two types of writers presented by NewsTrust, playing out directly at the Daily News. In a memo sent the day he started (January 31), Platt encouraged the editorial department to stray from the Inverted Pyramid--a hallmark of Journalism 101--and encouraged them to "to write with wit and verve and attitude" and to "not be afraid to have a point of view about what you report," states American Journalism Review. While this may be suitable to someone used to magazine writing, as is the case for Platt, the question is whether this is the right approach for the Daily News, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for investigative journalism--a publication noted for its irreverent, gritty, street reputation.

How does gritty become fun?

Apparently Platt does not consider this to be in conflict. He says, "I don't think it signals a shift in news values. I think it signals a shift in the voice that delivers those news values." But there is a definite risk that changing the voice too much, when attempting to present something fair and balanced with accurate facts, might have the affect of clouding the story, pushing the perspective too far to one side or the other, and preventing the reader from gleaning fuller, more objective dimensions which serves to place the text in context for appropriate understanding.

Platt thinks readers throughout the U.S. want journalists to do fair and accurate reporting while not pretending "they don't have a point of view about what they're reporting." While this is fine and good for opinion writers and columnists, as the traditional trade permits, this creates a conflict of interest for the news reporter in telling the facts with as little bias as possible and then trying to deliver the story in a voice and style that can suggest bias.

In this case, too much writing personality could have negative ramifications for the reader.

The response from the paper's newsroom has been curious. Columnist Stu Bykofsky, who has been at the Daily News for almost 40 years, says the department has not used the Inverted Pyramid for decades. "I think it's going to be very challenging to allow a reporter to inject his or her opinion or reach conclusions," Bykofsky says. "Fair to me means letting both sides have their say ... letting the reader decide. I just think it's dangerous territory."

Bykofsky stresses that it's unclear exactly what Platt's openness to opinion means in real terms. "The first time a political reporter wants to call the mayor an MFer in print, we'll see what happens," he says, laughing, as reported by the American Journalism Review.

What do you think? Is there a conflict of interest here?

For an assessment and tip sheet provided by NewsTrust on how to review good journalism from bad journalism, click here.

Sources: American Journalism Review, NewsTrust, NewsWorks, Poynter



Ashley Stepanek


2011-02-10 17:09

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